BWW Reviews: TAME. Offers Stirring Drama at Capital Fringe
TAME. is one of those plays in this year's Capital Fringe Festival that's a bit of a rarity among all of the zany offerings. It's something new, something inspired by the classics, something that offers a rich story, and something that's very well-acted. It actually turned out to be one of the offerings this year that I enjoyed the most.
Inspired by the classic Shakespearean tale The Taming of the Shrew, but set in 1960s less-than-tolerant Louisiana, Jonelle Walker's play allows us go on Cathryn's (Haely Jardas) - or Cat as she likes to be called - tumultuous journey back to her hometown and her family. From the moment the aspiring, moody writer enters her family's house in the middle of the night - wakening her Mama (Ali Oliver-Krueger), then her sister, Bea (Paige O'Malley), and then her Daddy (Deryl Davis) - it's clear she doesn't belong and is, well, to put in plainly, supremely frustrated. The truth about Cat's past and what she really feels and why is revealed through conversations with her sister and forced counseling sessions with Patrick (Henry LaGue), a young man with his eyes set on becoming an ordained minister. In these explosive moments, the true source of her angst is explored and put into context with the 'we must uphold tradition and behave in a proper way' mindset that's prevalent in the South. As other familial issues and situations bubble up to the surface, broader questions continue to emerge as to what to do when someone's behavior and attitude don't conform to expectations, the role of labels in shaping behavior and perceptions, and the cost of setting out on one's own path. Is it worth it to be true to one's self? What's the cost?
As presented by the Blind Pug Arts Collective under the direction of Medha Marsten, the strengths of Walker's script outshine the comparatively fewer weaknesses. While certainly aspects of the script could be fleshed out (for example, the relationships among the characters), and some of the characters could be more richly drawn, the cast does a bang-up job of conveying the richness of the Walker's story. In lesser hands, the actors may have been enticed to give campy performances as a result of the subject matter. In this case, however, they all avoid any tendency for the melodramatic and instead convey all of the angst, anger, sadness, confusion and other real emotions at play to one extent or another within the family unit in an authentic way.
Most successful at this is Jardas who weaves Cat's unhappiness, wise nature, wit, and intellectual curiosity into every aspect of her perceptive and nuanced performance. Whether Cat's dealing with heightened emotions or none at all, Jardas is very much always present and the one to watch because her physical display of feelings matches what's voiced (or not voiced, as it were). LaGue is well-suited to conveying the complexities and fire that lay hidden under Patrick's fresh-faced, docile "I want to work for the Lord" persona. He manages to overcome the fact that his character - though among the most interesting - isn't particularly well developed. O'Malley, Oliver-Krueger, and Davis, likewise, do their best at giving fully rounded performances that make their characters seem less like the manifestations of Southern stereotypes and more like actual humans.
A decision to employ the words of Sylvia Plath in between scenes is a very good one because in the end this is the story of Cat - a young woman with a creative edge dealing with a world of loss, anger and sadness. The inclusion of Plath's voice never feels forced and comes at appropriate times to convey and capture the mood and ideas that underlie the script. While some of the technical elements fall flat - particularly the execution of the fight choreography by Stephen Michel, which isn't very realistic in such a small space - the production offers one of the more polished examples of multi-character dramatic theatre I've seen in the festival.
"TAME." is being presented as part of the Capital Fringe Festival at the Gearbox - 1021 7 Street, NW in Washington, DC - through July 25. For tickets to the final performance on July 25 at 8:15 PM, consult the show's page on the Capital Fringe website. Run time is 75 minutes.
Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe website.